In late February, days before our trip to Hawaii, I thought it would be a good idea to pick up a travel size bottle of hand sanitizer for the plane journey. While we were sat by the pool, we discussed the news story slowly but steadily gaining traction in the US. The day we flew home, there was an email and a flurry of messages from colleagues telling me we were all required to work from home starting immediately.
Now May has just begun, I’m about to finish my tenth week working from home, my eighth week under a shelter-in-place mandate (currently, thankfully, still able to go outside to exercise and shop for essentials, as long as a mask or face covering is worn) and Hawaii feels like a lifetime ago. Holidays always so fade so fast, once the plane lands and real life returns to greet you at the gate, but this one in particular feels incredibly distant.
One of my favourite reasons to keep this corner of the internet going, albeit limply, is to reflect on our adventures and holidays and incredible experiences, so this is that. A scrapbook of notes and photos about a wonderful vacation – our last for a long time, I suspect.
We have wanted to visit Hawaii ever since we moved out here, given the its close-ish proximity to California, so when we were invited to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday, we couldn’t say yes fast enough. Eight of us travelled to Hawaii’s Big Island (about a six hour flight away and officially, confusingly also known as Hawaii), the largest island in the state, made up of lush vegetation on one side, flat, sandy beaches on the other, and two volcanoes in the middle. It’s known for having almost all of Earth’s microclimates within the island and, as a result, is incredibly diverse in terms of landscapes, flora and fauna.
After discussions on hotels vs AirBnBs, our friends settled on the Hapuna Beach Resort. The word “resort” can make me a little twitchy, but it was actually lovely and had a beautiful beach, an adults-only pool, and wasn’t so big that you felt dwarfed. We sprung for an ocean view and it was worth it. The Hapuna has a sister property, the Mauna Kea Hotel, with a free minibus that shuttles guests between the two hotels, so we got to spend time there, too, which lead to one of the best experiences of the trip for me.
Food plays a huge part in any vacation for us, and this trip did not disappoint. From the supermarket deli poke bowl and Fritos an hour after we arrived, to the delicious sushi dinner on our final night, we had some fantastic meals. Standout gastronomic memories include the butterfish at Sansei, virgin piña coladas and turtle spotting at Lava Lava Beach Club, bread pudding for breakfast, and seared scallop risotto.
We’re qualified divers and, just like food, when daydreaming about holidays, the capacity for diving is normally high on our list. The Big Island is known for it’s manta ray population, who come out to feed at night, so six of us booked a two-dive (sunset and early evening) trip with Jack’s Diving Locker, with M and I booked on to a second day of diving later in the week. Unfortunately I had some problems with my ear during the decent on the night dive, and had to go back to the boat, meaning I didn’t get to take part in the manta-spotting. I was gutted, and my ear didn’t clear up in time for the other day we had planned, so I only managed to log one dive. In the end, the manta didn’t make an appearance that night, but we were fortunate enough to snorkel with them the night before, which I’m incredibly grateful for.
The Road Trip
Calling a day of driving a road trip is a little grandiose, but on the fourth day of the holiday, M and I set off on our own to visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. We’re big National Parks geeks and have planned several trips just around particular parks we want to visit, so we knew we couldn’t go to the Big Island and not visit Volcanoes. Sadly there haven’t been any lava flow displays there since an eruption in 2018, but we still got to explore a decent chunk of the park, and experience the rainforest side of the island. Our drive actually took us all the way around the edge of the island, so in one day we experienced imposing, grass-covered hills, black volcanic rock, sunshine, rain, giant ferns and coastal views. It was brilliant, and worth the faff of hiring a car for.
I knew Hawaii boasted an impressive array of wildlife, but I’m honestly blown away by just how much we saw in the space of six days. We went on a whale watching tour and saw humpbacks breach the water, during the boat ride out to the dive site, we saw a baby humpback, a pair of bottlenose dolphins and some spinner dolphins. On the mornings we spent snorkeling just off the beach, we were lucky enough to see angel fish, parrot fish, turtles, puffer fish, and even a rust-coloured octopus. Then of course there was snorkeling with the manta rays.
Most of our friends had stayed on the Big Island before, and a couple had been snorkeling with rays at our resort’s sister hotel. When they suggested we head over there to watch the sunset and then swim out to a point about 200 yards from the beach, where manta are known to feed on plankton, we excitedly agreed. I might write more about this (and have done so on Instagram) but snorkeling with mantas (two, and then four when we went back a few nights later) was one of the most incredible experiences. The fact it was free – no organized group, no boat trip or jostling to see The Attraction – just seven of us with masks and fins, three dive lights between us and two incredible wild animals, made it even more remarkable.
Watching the rays dance and glide beneath us, a glimpse into another world, was a privilege I am incredibly grateful for, and something I’ve thought about frequently since we got home. It’s so strange that we went from tropical beaches, celebrations and vacation decadence to toilet paper shortages and quarantine measures without any time in between. I don’t know when we’ll be lucky enough to go to another National Park again, or step on a plane, or what the rest of this year will look like, but I’m very grateful for the friendship, adventures and manta rays of Hawaii.